Farewell, My Concubine (1993)

 

 

Director:  Chen Kaige.

Starring:  Leslie Cheung (Cheng Dieyi, segment "Douzi"), Fengyi Zhang (Duan Xiaolou, segment "Shitou"), Li Gong (Juxian), Qi Lu (Master Guan), Da Ying (Manager), You Ge (Master Yuan), Chun Li (Xiao Si, in his teens), Han Lei (Xiao Si, adult), Di Tong (Zhang the Eunuch), Mingwei Ma (Douzi as a Child), Yang Fei (Shitou as a Child), Zhi Yin (Douzi as a Teenager), Hailong Zhao (Shitou as a Teenager), Dan Li (Laizi/Peking Opera schoolboy), Wenli Jiang (Douzi's Mother). 

(1993 Best Foreign Language Film) English subtitles

 

This is the story of the relationship between two boys/men whose friendship survives through a great many tragedies. The two boys are left in an orphanage type institution that makes money by training the boys to perform on the opera stage. The boys are brutally treated with whippings being the favorite activity of the masters. The effeminate Douzi is evidently homosexual and falls in love with his friend Shitou. Shitou seems naively unaware of Douzi's feelings which causes a great deal of friction between the two. While at the orphanage Douzi saves an abandoned male baby from death by taking him to the orphanage where the boys dote over the baby.

The two boys become the stars of the opera "Farewell, My Concubine" -- the story of the Chous emperor's concubine who kills herself rather than to be taken by the forces of the new Han Dynasty emperor. The effeminate-looking Douzi plays the female lead. Things go well for the two at least professionally. They take on the professional names of Dieyi and Xiaolou. But then Shitou falls for a prostitute Juxian (Gong Li) at the local brothel and eventually marries her (over the strong objections and protests of the very jealous Douzi).

More troubles arrive in 1937 with the Japan-China War. In order to save Shitou from the conquerors, Douzi sings for the Japanese. This proved to be only a temporary solution to the friend's problems, because with the coming of the civil war and the Republican troops, Douzi is in trouble for having sang for the Japanese. His friends try to save him by agreeing to lie to a common scenario, but Douzi refuses to go along and stubbornly confesses. In spite of this, they let Douzi go because Chiang Kai-shek likes the opera.

The friendship is patched up again but for only a while. The communists take over Beijing and Dieyi is soon in trouble with the opportunistic, now-grown adopted child that he saved by objecting to the communist attempts at opera. In this dispute, the former adoptee takes over the role of the concubine from Dieyi. Dieyi becomes hooked on opium and Xiaolou and Juxian make ends meet by selling watermelons on the street.

The men make-up, but not for long, as the forces of the Cultural Revolution forces Xiaolou to publicly repent and to denounce Dieyi for singing for the Japanese. Dieyi responds by condemning Juxian for being a former prostitute. Xiaolou is forced to denounce his wife and claim that he never wanted to see her again. In the devastating aftermath, Juxian hangs herself, much to the regret of her husband.

Somehow they survive all this and following the end of the Cultural Revolution (1977) they try go get together to perform their famous opera once again. They replay the famous scene where the concubine slits her own throat and this time Douzi slits his own throat at the climax of the performance now leaving Xiaolou totally alone.

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

See Last Emperor (Bertolucci) (1987)

 

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